|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at email@example.com. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
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The Easy Solution to the Automotive Chip Shortage
Sometimes one comes across a solution to a problem that is so mind-numbingly ridiculous one has to scream "enough!"
We've all heard about how the automotive industry is suffering from a shortage of chips. When the pandemic hit they cut back on semiconductor orders, anticipating a slowdown in sales. That didn't happen and now $50k cars are parked waiting for $0.50 MCUs.
According to this September 17, 2021 piece in Fortune, the problem is that car makers rely on parts with 45 to 90 nm geometry when they should be thinking 16 nm. Indeed, Intel's chief executive Pat Gelsinger berated them for this poor decision making, and says he's willing to "make them as many Intel 16 [nanometer] chips as they want."
Obviously, Mr. Gelsinger has a point. Why use a ten cent MCU to control a window motor when a $300 Intel Inside® microprocessor can raise that window in nanoseconds? Customers are sick of waiting literally for seconds for windows to raise and lower. And using a Core I7 processor means the windows can use Windows 11 which will provide (according to Microsoft) "A new Windows experience bringing you closer to the people and things you love." Studies have shown that drivers are more than willing to wait in their driveways for a half hour for the frequent OS upgrades to install when the benefit is being closer to the people you love, including the screaming kids.
Of course, the $300 CPU will need 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard disk, network controller for OS updates, and a 32-layer PCB. At some 100 amps figure on a pair of 2/0 battery cables to feed the thing. With luck the 0.605" diameter of those cables won't impede smooth door openings and closings all that much, and the buck-a-foot price multiplied by the 50 to 100 controllers in the average car won't affect the vehicle's sales price by more than 50% or so. Counter-rotating cooling fans will prevent the vehicle from spinning on its axis at power-up.
At 100+ watts per processor the car's air conditioner would have to be beefed up to a three-ton unit. But that would fit comfortably on the roof. Many vehicles come with towing hitches, which could conveniently tow the cooling unit's 20kW generator. Quick-disconnect 200 conductor 2/0 cable connectors are in development.
I guess the corollary to this thinking is that using (gasp!) 8 bit MCUs instead of the latest in processor technology is engineering malpractice. What designer would consign his products to dead-end 45 nm technology? Sure, it is cheap, proven reliable, and a good fit for the application. But the benefits of higher cost, lower reliability, longer startup times and massive profits for Intel are just too obvious to state.
The article in Fortune concludes: "If semiconductor suppliers like Intel and Qualcomm have their way, however, the days of the auto industry relying on these cheap commodity chips are numbered." (Emphasis added)
(It's strangely appropriate that when writing this I wanted to go to Microsoft's site for the quote above, but based on my browsing history Firefox suggested "Microchip" instead.)
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
Recent blog postings:
- Solution to the Automotive Chip Shortage - why use an MCU when a Core I7 would work?
- The WIRECARE - A nice circuit tester
- Marvelous Magnetic Machines - A cool book about making motors
- Over-Reliance on GPS - It's a great system but is a single point of failure
- Spies in Our Email - Email abuse from our trusted friends
- A Canticle for Leibowitz - One of my favorite books.
- A 72123 beats per minute heart rate - Is it possible?
- Networking Did Not Start With The IoT! - Despite what the marketing folks claim
- In-Circuit Emulators - Does anyone remember ICEs?
- My GP-8E Computer - About my first (working!) computer
- Humility - On The Death of Expertise and what this means for engineering
- On Checklists - Relying on memory is a fool's errand. Effective people use checklists.
- Why Does Software Cost So Much? - An exploration of this nagging question.
- Is the Future All Linux and Raspberry Pi? - Will we stop slinging bits and diddling registers?
- Will Coronavirus Spell the End of Open Offices - How can we continue to work in these sorts of conditions?
- Problems in Ramping Up Ventilator Production - It's not as easy as some think.
- Lessons from a Failure - what we can learn when a car wash goes wrong.
- Life in the Time of Coronavirus - how are you faring?
- Superintelligence - A review of Nick Bostrom's book on AI.
- A Lack of Forethought - Y2K redux
- How Projects Get Out of Control - Think requirements churn is only for software?
- 2019's Most Important Lesson. The 737 Max disasters should teach us one lesson.
- On Retiring - It's not quite that time, but slowing down makes sense. For me.
- On Discipline - The one thing I think many teams need...
- Data Seems to Have No Value - At least, that's the way people treat it.
- Apollo 11 and Navigation - In 1969 the astronauts used a sextant. Some of us still do.
- Definitions Part 2 - More fun definitions of embedded systems terms.
- Definitions - A list of (funny) definitions of embedded systems terms.
- On Meta-Politics - Where has thoughtful discourse gone?
- Millennials and Tools - It seems that many millennials are unable to fix anything.
- Crappy Tech Journalism - The trade press is suffering from so much cost-cutting that it does a poor job of educating engineers.
- Tech and Us - I worry that our technology is more than our human nature can manage.
- On Cataracts - Cataract surgery isn't as awful as it sounds.
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.